This time the Maple Leafs couldn’t get out of trouble with a goal.
Despite his best efforts, Auston Matthews failed to score a goal, let alone an NHL-record hat trick, for the third straight season as the Chicago Blackhawks were the stronger team in a 4-1 victory at Scotiabank Arena.
The Leafs kept dynamic first overall pick Connor Bedard off the board – just – and suffered their first loss of the season in front of 19,101 spectators who came to see a battle of first overall picks featuring Bedard and Matthews.
The Monday Blablas, with a lower-ranked opponent and an unheralded goaltender, have often conspired against the Leafs at home in recent years, and when they botched some coverage calls and couldn’t get through cleanly, history repeated itself. The Leafs have conceded 12 goals in three games.
In his first start since the playoffs, Joseph Woll kept the Leafs in check with 12 mostly difficult stops until a lack of finishing and gap control caught up with them. The busy Hawks got far too many free attacks in the second period to extend their lead. The Leafs didn’t get a full power play until late in the third period and looked terrible doing it while spending too much time on the kill Monday.
Ironically, Matthews came closest here with a team-leading seven shots, as he and Mitch Marner helped defuse a John Klingberg minor. Head coach Sheldon Keefe pulled Woll with more than three minutes left, with Taylor Hall’s empty-net throw rejected for offside on video review, as was William Nylander’s 6-on-5 before Alex Vlasic found the empty cage.
A confident Woll intercepted Bedard’s wrist shot on the first of two penalties against Tyler Bertuzzi, while Bedard also made the Hawks’ most exciting rush of the first period. He beat a defender and came in with a hard backhand before switching late to the forehand. But Woll stuck with him, as he did on Nick Foligno’s partial breakaway when Timothy Liljegren mishandled a pass at the Leaf line.
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MacKenzie Entwistle eventually beat his short side, sending the Leafs into turmoil. Consecutive hard presses paid off as Nylander was denied by John Tavares for the first time this year.
Undrafted Swede Arvid Soderblom, who had a career NHL record of 2-13-2 and a save percentage of .891, didn’t see much early action in Chicago’s net. Lukas Reichel got enough of a pass from Nylander to Matthews to thwart his only good early chance. Marner stumbled into a penalty 35 seconds into Toronto’s first power play.
A stretched pass went through Mark Giordano’s attempted block to Corey Perry for the go-ahead shot, and the old Leaf nemesis then passed the ball to the fans in the front row behind the net.
Tyler Johnson stopped 16 failed power plays for Chicago this month and made it 3-1.
There was another struggle on Monday that matched the Leafs’ rougher edge this season. Noah Gregor dropped the gloves while Connor Murphy was on the faceoff after Gregor was blamed for hitting Nikita Zaitsev into the glass hard enough to cut him. Gregor performed well after two battles with enforcer Ryan Reaves, which was arguably the first time in a decade that the Leafs were involved in fisticuffs in their first three games.
The Leafs have been training defenseman Simon Benoit and he could be their first defensive change on Thursday in Florida.